Beloit College's "Mindset List" has become a rite of fall. Each list (such as the one being released today) offers examples of things that an 18-year-old arriving on campus would and would not have experienced. Names of some people who were significant to their parents' generation (this year Dean Martin and Jerry Garcia, among others) have "always been dead." In theory, professors and administrators get a reminder not to assume that the new students on campus share their cultural and historic signposts.
For Beloit, the list has been public relations gold, resulting in countless articles (including on this website every year), a book, even, and imitators as far away as Australia. There have also been grumbles from academics who have tired of the format (or PR people who admit to being jealous that Beloit thought of this idea first).
Some bloggers have challenged the list. An Inside Higher Ed blogger, Kenneth C. Green, wondered in 2010 whether the list contributes to the sense of many faculty members that today's students somehow know less than did previous generations, a common -- if not necessarily verified -- lament whose reinforcement may not be a good thing for anyone.
This year two anonymous professors -- one from a large public university and the other from a community college -- have declared their intent to destroy the list, which has been going strong since 1998. They are unveiling a site -- Beloit Mindlessness -- that is "dedicated to the mockery and eventual destruction of the Beloit mindset list."
Via e-mail, they said that they have no connection to Beloit or anyone associated with the list. They write as "Disgruntled Prof" and "John Q. Angry."
Their website takes issue with the idea of reading too much into freshmen by focusing on events that happened about 18 years ago to divide generations into those who did and did not experience certain things -- without any possibility that students might actually have read books or might not see the year of their birth as a great divide. And so they released Monday night their version of what the list might look like (correctly predicting that this year's list would note that students had never been alive at the same time as Dean Martin or Jerry Garcia). The fake introduction said: "This year’s entering college class was born with the universal serial bus and they’ve always been connected. They may have had PlayStations in their cribs and their first solid food may have been stuffed crust pizza, but they’ve never visited the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building."
The two professors specifically focus on the issue of relating everything to events that took place 18 years ago. "Each year’s list is constructed -- and this point bears repeating over and over -- by a couple guys going to a library and looking at microfiche of things that happened 18 years earlier," Beloitmindlessness says. "Clearly this makes absolutely no sense. A person’s 'mindset' -- their understanding of how the world works, their values and interests, and so on — tends to be shaped by things that happened to them once they developed an understanding of their social environment more sophisticated than a newborn’s. Things that happened ten or five or even one year earlier are going to be far more important to an 18-year-old than things than happened 18 years ago."
On a portion of their site called "Why the Beloit Mindset List Must Be Destroyed," the two critics write that "the List is a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors, and based on nothing more than the uninformed speculation of its authors. It inspires lazy, inaccurate journalism and is an embarrassment to academia." And they state their goal of examining and mocking pretty much each entry on any of the lists.
Asked why he would spend so much time on a site to take down the Mindset List, Disgruntled Professor said via e-mail: "It makes people in higher education look stupid. Students look stupid because they are portrayed as solipsistic idiots who don't know anything about the world before they were born. It portrays professors as out-of-touch coots who use their class time to prattle on about who shot J.R., Madonna, the color of M&Ms and other trivia. It makes academic researchers look stupid because it is one of the most widely covered 'reports' on academic life — and it is of abysmal quality."
John Q. Angry answered this way: "The 'generation gap' the Beloit list hopes to bridge is seemingly caused by stodgy old professors safely tucked away in their ivory towers from pop culture clashing with students too hip to know the roots or precedents of anything they consume in the present. The list assumes that old profs are also not able to cope with the passing of time, being startled that something they remember well happened so long ago. It assumes that students view their profs as relics of a bygone age dropping outdated references to previous generations they shouldn't be expected to know."
The two co-authors of the Beloit list are Ron Nief, emeritus director of public affairs, and Tom McBride, Keefer Professor of the Humanities.
Via e-mail, McBride said that he found the new site amusing, but that "the authors of the 'mindless' list are misreading the Mindset List. The point is not to portray today's college students as lazy and solipsistic. On the contrary, we began our list 18 years ago because we were tired of other lists that did just that."
He added that the goals of the list include "to provide a concise overview of what has happened in the short lifetimes of entering college students -- and to detail what has, in effect, always been 'normal' for them. It is not about their ignorance or navel-gazing or anything at all like that." Further, McBride said he and Nief hoped "to spark intergenerational conversations within homes and classrooms" and "to remind teachers that some of their allusions and references are going to need a bit of explanation."
McBride added: "Even sardonic parody is, perhaps, a perverse form of flattery. The verve of Beloit Mindlessness is itself ample testimony that students are very smart and industrious!"
You can judge for yourself. The links above take you to the anti-Beloit Mindset site. This year Beloit is releasing about half of the items on the list, while the remainder may be found here.
Here are selections from this year's list. For this year's new students, born in 1995....
- Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.
- Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.
- They are the sharing generation, having shown tendencies to share everything, including possessions, no matter how personal.
- GM means food that is Genetically Modified.
- As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.
- "Dude" has never had a negative tone.
- As their parents held them as infants, they may have wondered whether it was the baby or Windows 95 that had them more excited.
- As kids they may well have seen "Chicken Run" but probably never got chicken pox.
- Having a chat has seldom involved talking.
- Gaga has never been baby talk.
- They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
- They have known only two presidents.
- Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents’ screens grow ever larger.
- PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend online.
- Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cell phone and Skype accounts than with getting a driver’s license and car.
- The U.S. has always been trying to figure out which side to back in Middle East conflicts.
- A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.
- Threatening to shut down the government during federal budget negotiations has always been an anticipated tactic.
- Growing up with the family dog, one of them has worn an electronic collar, while the other has toted an electronic lifeline.
- Plasma has never been just a bodily fluid.
- The Pentagon and Congress have always been shocked, absolutely shocked, by reports of sexual harassment and assault in the military.
- Spray paint has never been legally sold in Chicago.
- Captain Janeway has always taken the USS Voyager where no woman or man has ever gone before.
- While they've grown up with a World Trade Organization, they have never known an Interstate Commerce Commission.
- Courts have always been ordering computer network wiretaps.
- Planes have never landed at Stapleton Airport in Denver.
- Jurassic Park has always had rides and snack bars, not free-range triceratops and velociraptors.
- Thanks to Megan's Law and Amber Alerts, parents have always had community support in keeping children safe.
- With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address.
- Java has never been just a cup of coffee.
- Americans and Russians have always cooperated better in orbit than on earth.